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Fri, 07.27.1787

Shaka Zulu, African Monarch born

Shaka Zulu statue, London, UK

*Shaka Zulu was born on this date, c. 1787.  Shaka Zulu was a Black South African Monarch and military innovator of the Zulu Nation.   

He was born Sigidi kaSenzangakhona near present-day Melmoth, KwaZulu-Natal Province. Due to persecution due to his illegitimacy, he spent his childhood in his mother's settlements, where he was initiated into an ibutho lempi (fighting unit).

In his early days, Shaka served as a warrior under the sway of Dingiswayo and further refined the ibutho system used by them and others.   With the Mthethwa empire's support over the next several years, he forged alliances with his smaller neighbors to counter the growing threat from Ndwandwe raids from the north. The initial Zulu maneuvers were primarily defensive, as Shaka preferred to apply pressure diplomatically, aided by an occasional strategic assassination. His changes to local society were built on existing structures. Although he preferred social and propagandistic political methods, he fought several battles, as the Zulu sources survived and excelled. 

After the death of his mother, Nandi, in October 1827, the devastation caused by Shaka's subsequent erratic behavior made enough enemies among his people to accelerate his demise.  According to some historians, Shaka ordered that no crops be planted during the following year of mourning, no milk (the basis of the Zulu diet at the time) be used, and any woman who became pregnant was to be killed along with her husband.  Thousands of people deemed insufficiently grief-stricken were executed, although the killing was not restricted to humans: cows were slaughtered so that their calves would know what losing a mother felt like.  The Zulu monarch was killed by three assassins sometime in September 1828.  

This left the royal kraal critically lacking in security. It was all the conspirators needed. They were Shaka's half-brothers, Dingane and Mhlangana.  It appears they made at least two attempts to assassinate Shaka before they succeeded, with perhaps support from Mpondo elements and some disaffected people. While the British colonialists considered his regime a future threat, allegations that European traders wished him dead were problematic given that Shaka had granted concessions to Europeans before his death, including the right to settle at Port Natal (now Durban).  

His assassins dumped Shaka's corpse in an empty grain pit, which was then filled with stones and mud. The exact location is unknown.  His half-brother Dingane assumed power.  Dingane ruled for some twelve years, during which time he fought, disastrously, against the Voortrekker and against another half-brother, Mpande, who, with Boer and British support, took over the Zulu leadership in 1840, ruling for some 30 years.  Shaka was the leader of the Zulu Kingdom from 1816 to 1828. He was one of the most influential monarchs of the Zulu Kingdom. 

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